There are moments in our lives where a previously understood but not formally "known" concept becomes clear to our conscious minds. The light bulb goes off, we shriek "Eureka!" and jump out of the bath tub, running through the streets naked and we—I mean, uh, what?
For me, one of those moments was in facing views like this one, where the alliance between the L, G, B and T was discussed as being a marriage (if you will excuse the pun) of convenience rather than one of actual shared concerns. But this is never a position which satisfied me. I had always known that my being a trans woman, regardless of my sexuality, meant that I was forever to be linked with the queer community. But it took me many years to understand why.
LG (and B, but more often than not, usually just the LG) criticisms of our alphabet soup alliance usually starts with a truth which transgender folks have often tried to assert ourselves: gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same issue. They are, in fact, very distinct. And yet, the use of this truism by LG commentators to break apart our civil rights alliance is deeply problematic.
Why? Because it serves to discount two very powerful forces in the lived experiences of trans identified folks: the view of one's own sexuality... and the view of one's sexuality by a heterosexual, cisgender majority. When trans folks like myself talk about the need to separate gender identity from sexual orientation, it is because no one bothers to ask us how we would like to be viewed.
I myself do not identify as queer, at least not within my own head. I accept my own normalcy, whatever normal is. I am different, but not abnormal, so the word queer, for me personally, seems off. Do I use it verbally? Yes, yes I do. I do because the spaces I am often most comfortable participating in are identified as queer. But also because cisgender, heterosexual folks acknowledge me as queer. They don't bother asking me my opinion on the word, and even if they did, it wouldn't change how the vast majority of their fellows view me.
Fair enough. I am primarily interested in women. I am a woman who dates women. I am a woman who has sex with women. I am a woman who has long lasting romantic relationships with women. I guess that makes me a lesbian. I guess that makes me "queer." So what? I may have issues with the word, but they are largely academic.
Many of my straight (yes, straight!) binary identified transgender friends and acquaintances, however, really resent this labeling. They do not think of themselves as homosexual, let alone something which suggests abnormality like "queer." For these binary identified, heterosexual trans women, especially, even the insults like "faggot" or "faerie" don't seem to make a whole lot of sense. They're not just harmful and offensive, they suggest hatred based on an identity that the folks in question don't even claim.
This would suggest to many of the aforementioned critical LG folks that their criticisms are borne out by the resentment of trans folks, and especially heterosexual trans folks. "Look," they tell us, "the way to deal with this is by presenting a separate front to the straights! If we do that, they'll realise that gender identity isn't the same as sexual orientation! If we work together, they'll keep confusing us!"
Yeah, well, no. Because many of the same discriminatory policies which harm the LG and B also harm the T because they are seen as LGB (plus maybe something extra). The T is often seen as a modification of the LGB. Our existence is threatening in several ways, one of which is the way in which we threaten the traditional understanding of the relation between biology, gender, and sexuality. Even if heterosexual transgender folks wanted to remove themselves from the mainstream conceptualisation of queer, it would be impossible. Cisgender, straight society won't let them.
And even if it did, where would it leave those of us who are L and T, or G and T, or B and T? Even if we got to a point where our gender identities were generally regarded as distinct by the majority of society, we ourselves would still deal with our experiences as having two letters, not just one. As I asked the author of the critical clashtalk post, how do I separate my experiences as a trans woman from my experiences as a woman who likes women? How do I possibly talk about my experiences dating as an adolescent which were a weird combination of, "I find you sexually attractive, and I also want to be you." It explains why I dated cheerleaders in high school.
The fact is: I can't. Ever. Not possible. My experiences as a lesbian are tied directly into my experiences as a trans woman. Especially issues regarding my sexual history, which consists mostly of cis women with a wide variety of sexualities. Women very much aware of my own gender identity. This is where my own view of my own sexuality negates any argument which would see me choose one group over the other. Intersectional feminist theory denies such is even possible:
But the real blow to the criticism of LGBT unity comes when we start speaking about legal rights. Marriage equality isn't the only issue we're working on (although it sometimes seems as though it is), and the patchwork system we have now often works against transgender folks who identify as straight. Let's take my home state of Texas, as an example. Legal precedent is that sex is determined chromosomally. That is to say, XY or XX determines your sex according to the Texas judiciary. XX or XY with "opposite parts" or XXY? Probably you won't run into issues, as long as you are comfortable with what you were assigned as at birth. Who's going to check? But let's say an XY trans woman who is straight identified wishes to marry her cisgender male partner in Texas. NOPE. BZZT. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200 WORTH OF MULTIPLES OF THE SAME COFFEE MAKER. That would be a gay marriage. And we don't be marryin teh gayz in Tejas! Objections by the trans woman in question would be (and have been!) ignored. She is not straight by Texas legal code. Nope, she's queer as they come.
Ultimately, it is this heterosexual, cisgender queering of transgender sexuality (regardless of how the individuals themselves identify) which is the strongest argument in support of maintaining a unified front in the modern civil rights debate. On the subject of whether or not such queering is fair or reasonable, we have much work to be done, but it doesn't change the fact that I still believe, we hang together or we hang separately. Or in my case, torn apart by competing allegiances I should never be asked to choose between.